You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
The Saguntines sent a deputation to Rome to beg for help in a war which was inevitably approaching. (..) It was decided that commissioners should be sent to Spain to investigate the circumstances, and if they considered it necessary they were to warn Hannibal not to interfere with the Saguntines, who were allies of Rome; then they were to cross over to Africa and lay before the Carthaginian council the complaints which they had made. But before the commission was despatched news came that the siege of Saguntum had, to every one's surprise, actually commenced. (..) The commissioners were despatched without further delay to Hannibal. If he refused to abandon hostilities they were to proceed to Carthage to demand the surrender of the general to answer for his breach of treaty.
During these proceedings in Rome the siege of Saguntum was being pressed with the utmost vigour ("Dum Romae consulitur Saguntum expugnatur"). (..) A tower after much battering had fallen, and through the breach created by its fall a Carthaginian cohort advanced to the attack and signalled to their commander that the customary outposts and guards had disappeared and the city was unprotected. Hannibal thought that he ought to seize the opportunity and act promptly. Attacking it with his full strength, he took the place in a moment. Orders had been given that all the adult males were to be put to death.
Livy - History of Rome - excerpts from Book XXI - Translation by Rev. Canon Roberts
No Iberian city has been more described in history. Being the frontier town, allied to Rome, and extremely rich, it was hated by Hannibal, who attacked it. (..) The town perished, (..) a great but mournful monument of fidelity to Rome, and of Rome's neglect of an ally in the hour of need; Saguntum was revenged, as its capture led to the second Punic war, and ultimately to the expulsion from Spain of the Carthaginian.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
Castillo de Sagunto: (above) western end; (below) eastern end with Porta de Almenara
Valencia, November 30, 1775.
This morning, like many of the foregoing ones, was delicious: the sun rose gloriously out of the sea, and the air all around was perfumed with the effluvia of the aloe, as its rays sucked up the dew from the leaves.
The long range of turrets upon the hill of
Murviedro (once the too faithful Saguntum)
juts out towards the sea, from the chain of
mountains that runs parallel with the coast. (..) We halted at Murviedro, to view the ruins of so a celebrated a city, and to take
drawings of its most remarkable remains.
The present town seems to stand upon the same ground as
the ancient Roman city, but in all probability the Saguntum which was destroyed
by Hannibal was built upon the summit of
the hill. That the Romans also had a
fortress on the top, is clear, from the
large stones and regular masonry, upon
which the Saracens afterwards erected their
we climbed up to the
summit of the mountain, which is about
half a mile in length, and not a tenth part
as wide; quite a narrow ridge, covered with ruins and Moorish bulwarks. (..) The fortifications divide the
hill into several courts, with double and triple
walls, erected upon huge masses of rock,
laid in regular courses, by the Romans.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated
The ruins of ancient Saguntum gradually appear as we advance; they look on the mountain like seven castles one after another, which perhaps were only divisions of the same fortress: some of them are completely in ruins, while the others are almost entire; formerly they had all subterraneous communications one with the other. Sublime recollections occupy the mind, and we arrive at Murviedro without perceiving the length of the road. (..) The modern name of Murviedro is said to be derived from "muri veteres" or from "muros viejos" (old walls), because this town is erected on the ruins of Saguntum.
Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
Lower Town: pillars of a Roman bridge on Rio Palancia (today the river bed is usually dry because the stream is diverted to drinking water treatment facilities); (inset) "Tabula Peutingeriana", a Vth century AD map of the roads of the Roman Empire, showing Saguntum and Tarraco
The long lines of
walls and towers crown the height,
which rises above the site of Saguntum,
founded, 1384 years before Christ, by
the Greeks of Zacynthus (Zante)
(Strabo, iii. 240), and one of the few
emporia the jealous Phoenicians ever
permitted their dreaded rivals to establish on the Peninsular coasts. It was
formerly a seaport, but now the sickle
waters have retired more than a league. Ford
The location of the harbour facilities of Sagunto has not been precisely identified. It is possible that a small coastal swamp sheltered the large ships whereas the small ones were moored along the banks of Rio Palancia which today separates the old town from Sagunto Puerto, a modern development along the sea.
Sagunto was crossed by Via Augusta, a Roman road which linked Narbo Martius (Narbonne in France) with Gades (Cadiz). The bridge on Rio Palancia is generally believed to have been built as part of Via Augusta in the late Ist century BC.
Lower Town: an entrance to the Roman Circus
Saguntum had a circus the walls of which are still distinguishable in the lower part of the enclosure of a succession
of orchards, behind the convent of the Trinitarians. Laborde
The modern town, straggling and miserable, contains about 5000 inhabitants, agriculturists, and wine-makers. (..) At the back is a water-course, with portions of the walls of the Circus Maximus. Ford
In the 1970s the area where travellers of the past had seen the remains of a large circus was developed and only an entrance to the seating section was spared. It is dated IInd or IIIrd century AD.
Lower Town: Temple to Diana
Of all the woods, the ebony, the cypress, and the cedar are considered to be the most durable, a good proof of which is to be seen in the timber of which the Temple of Diana at Ephesus is built. (..) At Saguntum, too, in Spain, there is a temple of Diana, which was brought thither by the original founders of the place, from the island of Zacynthus, in the year 200 before the taking of Troy. It is preserved beneath the town, they say. Hannibal, being induced thereto by feelings of religious veneration, spared this temple, and its beams, made of juniper, are still in existence at this very day.
Pliny the Elder - Naturalis Historia - Book XVI - Translation by John Bostock and H.T. Riley
Saguntum had its temples, of which very few vestiges remain: that consecrated to Diana occupied the spot on which the Trinitarian convent now stands; but not a trace of it is. Laborde
The great temple of Diana stood where the convent of La Trinidad now does. Ford
According to tradition a wall of the Vth century BC is said to be the only remnant of the temple, although more likely it was part of a defensive tower.
It is impossible to go over Murviedro without
experiencing a sentiment of veneration for the memory of its
ancient inhabitants; at every step we take we are put in
mind of the courage of the Saguntins, the triumph and the
vengeance of the Carthaginians, and the grandeur of the Romans; we cannot examine it without reflecting at once on its
glory under the Saguntins, its destruction under the Carthaginians, its magnificence under the Romans, and the annihilation of the monuments of the luxury, greatness, and power of those nations, under the destructive hands of the Arabs.
The vestiges of the Roman power which we now find here
are only the insignificant remains of what they were formerly;
it still retains, however, something impressive and majestic. Laborde
In 1991, in an area which previously housed a football pitch, excavations for laying the foundation of a new building identified a section of Via Augusta; initially it must have been outside the pomerium, the legal boundary of the town, because evidence of a necropolis was found at its sides. Eventually it became part of the urban layout and it was flanked by porticoes and shops.
A similar discovery occurred at Merida in the same period.
Lower Town: Domus of the Fish (IInd century AD)
Saguntum was rebuilt by the Romans,
became a municipium, and fell with
the empire, the remains having been
ever since used by Goth, Moor, and
Spaniard, as a quarry above ground.
As with Italica, mayors and monks
have converted the shattered marbles
to their base purposes. Mutilated
fragments are here and there imbedded in the modern houses. Ford
In 2002 during the demolition of a small cinema the lower part of a Roman house was unearthed. It had the key elements of a typical Roman house (see one at Pompeii), among which a peristyle with an impluvium, a basin for collecting rainwater.
Lower Town: Domus of the Fish: frescoes
The impluvium was decorated with a fresco showing some fish after which the house is named. Other frescoes decorated the walls of the building. It might have had floor mosaics, but these have not been found. The fact that the Roman house and the Roman street can only be seen at artificial light makes them less evocative of their past.
Roman Theatre: (left) a minor part of the original seating section which was spared by the construction of a new theatre; (right) a fragment of an ancient column in the new stage
Half way up the rock are the ruins of
the theatre, in sufficient preservation to give
a tolerable idea of its size and distribution. (..) The seats for the audience, the staircases and passages of communication, the vomitoria, and arched porticoes. (..) As the spectators faced the north
and east, and were sheltered from the west
and south, nothing could be more agreeable
in this climate than such a place of entertainment; open to every pleasant and salubrious breeze, and defended from all winds that might bring with them heat or noxious
vapours. (..) The
silence that reigns in this august ruin, which
anciently resounded with the applauses of
proconsuls, and Roman citizens, is now
broken only by the "seguidillas" (short songs/poems) of a few rope-makers who have patched up a straw shed
upon the stage, and spin out their work
across the proscenium regardless of the
surrounding scenery. Swinburne
A greater portion of the theatre remains than any other Roman monument. It is at the foot of a mountain which shelters it from the south and west winds, we still see the semicircle where the spectators sat, the doors by which the magistrates entered, the judges' seats, those appropriated to the lictors, and to courtezans. The vomitoria, or passages by which the public came out, are still to be seen. Laborde
The famous theatre, placed on the slope above the town, to which the orchestra is turned, was much used up in 1811 by Suchet (a French general) to strengthen the castle, whose long lines of wall and tower rise grandly above; the general form of the theatre is, however, easily to be made out. The Roman architect took advantage of the rising ground for his upper seats. It looks N.E. in order to secure shade to the spectators, who thus, (..) must, like those in the Greek theatre at Taormina, in Sicily, have enjoyed at the same time a spectacle of nature and of art. The local arrangements, such as are common to Roman theatres, resemble those of Merida. Ford
The theatre, built into the northern side of the Castle Hill in the first half of the 1st century AD, originally had a capacity for 4,000 spectators. The scaenae frons (stage wall) reached the height of the rear seats and had a wooden roof.
In 1956-1978 a series of poorly thought additions/restorations were made with the purpose of making the Roman theatre more Greek-looking. In 1983 it was decided to redesign the theatre and a project was approved which was aimed at erecting a modern open air theatre having the features of an ancient Roman one. Immediately after the completion of the building in 1993, a debate began between those who advocated its demolition and those who claimed it was better to keep it because it had been built with taxpayer's money. It is not the only case of conservation of an ancient theatre which was poorly handled (e.g. at Caesarea in Israel and Carthage in Tunisia).
Archaeological Museum of Sagunto near the Theatre: (left) head of Dionysus/Bacchus, who is portrayed as an adult bearded man, an iconography which is typical of the early worship of the god (you may wish to see a relief found at Ephesus); (right) relief with a Nilotic scene
Numerous statues ornamented the temples and the other
public edifices of Saguntum, most of which have been destroyed; some of them have been conveyed to the archiepiscopal
palace of Valencia; and there remains at Murviedro only a
single statue, which is of white marble without a head, and a
fragment of another. Laborde
The image used as background for this page shows a relief depicting a bull's head in the small archaeological museum of Sagunto which houses some recent findings.
Castillo de Sagunto: (left) medieval tower; (right) Puerta de Almenara (XIVth century)
Ascending to the castle, near the entrance are some buttresses and massy masonry, said to be remains of the old Saguntine castle. The present is altogether Moorish, and girdles the irregular eminences. The citadel (..) is placed at the extreme height, and probably occupies the site of the Saguntine keep. Suchet stormed the fortress from this side. The castle is rambling and extensive, with some Moorish cisterns, built on the supposed site of a Roman temple. Ford
Castillo de Sagunto: assumed site of the Roman Forum (see it in the introductory page): (above) initial part of an inscription celebrating Cneus Baebius Geminus, who bequeathed the money for the construction of the Forum; (below-left) ancient architectural elements; (below-right) a "mensa ponderaria" with standard measures of capacity as at Pompeii, Djemila in Algeria and Dion in Greece.
uninteresting inscriptions, two mutilated
statues, the vestiges of the floor of a temple,
and some Roman arches thrown over a large
cistern, are all the antiquities we found.
One of the inscriptions is placed topsy-turvy
over a gate. Swinburne
We find the ruins of three steps in that part of the castle near the cistern; they are the remains of a greater number which led to a temple, the bases and plinths of the columns of which are still visible. Another temple seems to have stood on the spot where that part of the castle stands, which forms the third division; we still see its foundations, the extent and solidity of which are admirable; they are at the side of an immense cistern. It is supposed to have been dedicated to Hercules. An adjacent square bears the name of that demi-god and the middle of the square there is a tower, half destroyed which tradition reports to be a burial place of a companion, of Hercules. Laborde
There are (..) a few fragments of sculpture neglected as usual by the inesthetic governors, and mutilated by Suchet's soldiers.Ford
The Roman Forum, completed in the early Ist century AD, is located in the central area of the castle. It had a temple, a curia (Senate house), a basilica for the tribunal, a large rectangular cistern, and a line of shops.
(above) Inscriptions from the Forum: (left) Epigraphic Museum near the Forum: inscription celebrating Fabius Niger, a local magistrate of the "gens Fabia"; (right) Archaeological Museum of Sagunto: inscription celebrating Drusus Minor, son of Emperor Tiberius (see his assumed portrait which was found near Cordoba); (below) Archaeological Museum of Sagunto: Roman stone anchor
Roman inscriptions are seen on every side;
we find on several modern edifices and in ancient fortifications,
the stones on which they are engraved; we walk over them
on the thresholds of the doors, and on the stairs. Laborde
A small Epigraphic Museum near the Forum houses a great number of inscriptions, not only ancient ones. Some of them show that members of Roman gentes (families / clans) settled at Sagunto, similar to what occurred at Italica.
The following images show ancient works of art found at Sagunto or in south-eastern Spain.
(left) Archaeological Museum of Sagunto: lion (IVth century BC); (right) National Archaeological Museum of Madrid: lion from Pozo Moro near Albacete (Vth century BC)
Archaeological Museum of Catalonia at Barcelona: (above) sarcophagus depicting the Rape of Proserpina (IInd century AD) from Elx (Elche) - see the Lady of Elche in the introductory page; (below) detail showing Jupiter between Minerva and Mercury with Proserpina and Ceres on their knees
National Archaeological Museum of Madrid: Mosaic of the Months from near Albacete (IIIrd century AD)
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|